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United's renewed focus on youth academy continues to bear fruit

Manchester United travelled to Paris last year with eight youth academy graduates in the squad t...

United's renewed focus on yout...

United's renewed focus on youth academy continues to bear fruit

Manchester United travelled to Paris last year with eight youth academy graduates in the squad to face Paris St-Germain.

It was a daunting proposition for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but United achieved the unthinkable that night, overturning a first-leg deficit, to secure their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Marcus Rashford, who scored the decisive penalty, Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira all started that night, while youngster Tadith Chong was one of two substitutes used.

There has been plenty of discussion surrounding who United will bring in this summer to reinforce the squad. In order for them to do this a number of players will need to be sold, six of whom have reportedly been identified by Solskjaer already.

Solskjaer has placed renewed emphasis on the youth academy, and this has been the key contributor to the side's recent good fortune.

The manager recently noted that the club were "a little bit ahead in the process," in his pre-match press conference ahead of Thursday's clash with Crystal Palace.

That is in part down to the progress of young players like Mason Greenwood who has burst onto the scene. Brandon Williams has also acquitted himself well when called upon.

Greenwood's introduction was done in a sensible manner, according to Stephen Doyle, who joined Thursday's OTB AM, ahead of this evening's game.

Solskjaer's adoption of the practices established under Matt Busby, and perfected under Alex Ferguson, have been key to their revival since January.

United have had a tendency in the past to overuse young stars when they have made it into the first team. This was certainly the case with Rashford and Anthony Martial.

In Greenwood's case, Doyle contended that Solskjaer had managed his transition perfectly.

"Solskjaer's done it really well, he hasn't rushed him into it," he said. Having nailed down a starting spot you would expect Greenwood to feature even more heavily next season.

Others, like Chong, who signed a new deal with the club in April, are knocking at the door of the first-team.

While Angel Gomes recently decided not to sign a new deal, he is only one of the eight graduates who travelled to Paris who are no longer with the club.

This all stemmed from a prioritisation of the youth academy which had begun to grow stale.

United hold the record for FA Youth Cup victories, however, the conveyor belt producing young talent had slowed in the years under Louis Van Gaal, according to Andy Mitten, of The Athletic.

Under Solskjaer all of that has changed dramatically.

Once again "they want the best English players for their first-team. Failing that, they want the best players who have played English football all their lives, foreign talents who join at 16 or 17," Mitten outlined in his piece.

Under Solskjaer, United have regularly included youth players in their matchday squads. The Norwegian wants this to continue and has had help on that front from Nick Cox, who heads up the academy programme.

Nicky Butt is head of first-team development. Another former player, Quinton Fortune, is involved with the under-23's.

The involvement of former first-team stars in the youth set-up, coupled with a manager who famously led the team to one of their greatest ever triumphs, bodes well for success in the near future.

Bruno Fernandes has starred since his arrival, and more first-team signings will be made this summer.

The young players bursting through could be the difference for United in the long run, as they bid to climb back to the summit of the English game.

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Read more about

Anthony Martial Bruno Fernandes Manchester United Marcus Rashford Mason Greenwood Michael Carrick Ole Gunnar Solskjaer